Phthalates are chemical compounds that are commonly added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability and longevity. Phthalates are used in a wide range of cosmetic and food products — plus, they’re released into the environment. Diet is believed to be the main source of phthalates because fatty foods such as milk, butter and meats are commonly packaged or stored in plastics containing this dangerous toxin.
And a 2018 study gives us even more reason to pay attention to this everyday threat. Researchers at George Washington University compared phthalate levels in people who ate home-cooked meals to those who frequently dined out at restaurants, cafeterias and fast-food outlets. The results? On average, people who are eating food prepared outside of the home have nearly 35 percent higher levels of phthalates circulating in their bodies.
Translation: They’ve got a lot more hormone-disrupting chemicals running through their veins. And these chemicals are linked to a long list of health ills ranging from infertility and trouble losing weight to birth defects in kids and even certain cancers.
And while we’re on the subject of eating fast food on the go, you should know this: One-third of fast-food packaging also contains obesity-promoting, thyroid damaging nonstick chemicals. It’s not just the calories we need to worry about anymore.
Phthalates, colorless, odorless liquids produced by reacting phthalic anhydride with an appropriate alcohol. And according to tests done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most Americans have metabolites of multiple phthalates in their urine.
While diet is believed to be our greatest exposure, these toxins can be absorbed through the air and skin too. Indoor concentrations seem to be significantly higher than outdoor concentrations, and indoor air pollution can be worse than outdoor. Plus, higher temperatures result in higher concentrations of phthalates in the air. A 2021 study found a link between phthalates and 100,000 premature deaths in America a year. Researchers estimate these early deaths result in up to $47 billion of lost wages in the U.S. annually.
A 2003 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives suggests that environmental levels of phthalates are associated with altered DNA integrity in human sperm. The study consisted of 168 males who were recruited from the Massachusetts General Hospital Andrology Laboratory and provided semen and urine samples. The results indicate that monoethyl phthalate found in urine does increase DNA damage in sperm.
A 2005 scientific review published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine evaluated many animal and human studies associated with exposure to phthalates and reproductive development. In experimental animal studies, primarily in rodents, some phthalates induced reproductive tract developmental issues that consisted of epididymal malformations or absence of the epididymis, increased incidence of hypospadias (opening of the urethra in males), decreased distance between the genitals and anus, delayed preputial separation (pubertal milestone), retention of thoracic nipples, and testicular lesions.
Some studies reported associations between pubertal and adult exposure to phthalates and testicular toxicity. There is also research to suggest that phthalates exposure prolongs the cycles of reproductive hormones, suppresses or delays ovulation, leads to smaller pre-ovulatory follicles due to reduced granulosa cell size, and decreases circulating serum oestradiol, which is a reproductive hormone.
Researchers agree that something had to be done about this dangerous chemical toxin. In 2010, the market was still dominated by high-phthalate plasticizers; however, due to current legal provisions and growing environmental awareness and perceptions, producers are increasingly forced to use non-phthalate plasticizers. It’s up to us, the consumers, to search out phthalate-free products and avoid using foods and goods that contain this serious toxin.
Where Are Phthalates?
You may be shocked to find out that phthalates are found in the packaging of many products, including children’s toys, paint, printing inks and coatings, clay, pharmaceuticals, food products, and textiles.
2. Cosmetic Products
What’s the real price of beauty? Phthalates are used in perfumes, eye shadow, moisturizer, deodorant, nail polish, liquid soap, shampoo, conditioner and hair spray.
3. Household Products
Who knew that chemical toxins are in household cleaning products? Phthalates are also in detergents, shower curtains, vinyl upholstery, carpeting, wire coatings, adhesives, floor tiles, food containers and wrappers.
4. Medical and Personal-Care Products
Phthalates are present in the enteric coatings of pharmaceutical pills and nutritional supplements; they’re also in gelling agents, film formers, stabilizers, dispersants, lubricants, binders, emulsifying agents and suspending agents. Adhesives and glues, agricultural adjuvants, building materials, personal-care products, modern electronics, and medical applications such as catheters and blood transfusion devices also contain phthalates. Even most sunscreen is toxic, containing phthalates and more.
A 2004 study done at the Harvard School of Public Health found that enteric coatings used on medications and supplements generally consist of various polymers that contain plasticizers, including triethyl citrate, dibutyl sebacate, and phthalates such as diethyl phthalate and dibutyl phthalate. The study consisted of a spot urine sample from a man collected three months after he started taking Asacol, a medication with an enteric coating. The results showed that the concentration of phthalates in his urine was higher than the 95th percentile for males reported in the 1999–2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
5 Ways to Avoid Phthalate Exposure
According to research, 95 percent of Americans have phthalates in their urine. It’s almost impossible to completely avoid phthalate exposure, but there are some small changes you can make to reduce the risk of consuming these toxins.
1. Avoid Foods Stored in Plastic
It’s best to buy food daily and meat that is not stored in plastic bottles, containers or wrappers. Look for milk sold in a glass container, meat wrapped in paper, and yogurt or cheese in “phthalate-free” packages. Also, pesticides can spread phthalates on all foods so it’s important that you buy organic brands whenever possible.
Eat home-cooked meals as much as possible and avoid frequently dining out in restaurants, cafeterias and fast-food spots.
2. Use Homemade Hair and Skin Care Products
Too many beauty or self-care products contain phthalates that go directly onto your skin and into your pores. Many times you have no idea that these toxins are in your hair and skin care products because it isn’t listed in the ingredient label.
The best way to avoid consuming or applying phthalates directly to the skin is to make your own products. Hair products are very easy to make, and the essential oils used to perfume these products have a ton of health benefits to boot. Try my Natural Homemade Shampoo and Homemade Conditioner; store them in “phthalate-free” containers or glass jars if possible.
There are so many self-care products that you can make at home. My Homemade Deodorant, Homemade Frankincense Soap Bar and Homemade Honey Face Wash are all completely safe and toxin-free. They’ll make a world of difference for your skin and your health!
3. Use Glass Containers
Ditch your plastic tupperware of containers — the amount of toxins in these materials cannot be predicted, and chances are they’re high in phthalates. You certainly don’t want to heat your food up in plastic containers, as this only intensifies the toxic exposure. For instance, phthalates are endocrine disruptors that lead to excess estrogen, and we know that excess estrogen leads to hormone imbalance.
Whenever possible, use glass containers. Even when buying bottles or sippy-cups, go with the glass, silicon or stainless steel options.
4. Look for DEP-Free Products
If you buy items that contain plastic, look at the recycling codes to determine whether or not they’re safe. Codes 3 and 7 may contain phthalates, diethyl phthalate (DEP) or BPA, but plastic with recycling codes 1, 2 or 5 don’t contain phthalates. Always opt for the latter, as we know BPA toxic effects are dangerous to our health.
When buying any product, including shampoos, conditioners, body washes and perfumes, be weary of “fragrance” as an ingredient. This most likely means that phthalates are present in the product. Instead, look for products that say “phthalate-free” or “DEP-free.”
5. Cleanse Your Body
Chances are you have high phthalate levels in your body right now, and that’s because these toxins are nearly impossible to avoid. This is why I recommend you detox your liver every once in a while — to clear your body of harmful chemicals and give it a fresh start.
A liver cleanse is important because the liver is one of the hardest-working organs in our body. It works tirelessly to detoxify our blood; produce the bile needed to digest fat; break down hormones; and store essential vitamins, minerals and iron. When the liver is not functioning optimally, we cannot digest our food properly, and this trickles down to every system of the body. To get you started, try my Green Detox Machine Juice Recipe. It will boost your health and begin to repair years of damage and ingested toxins.